Steve Jobs, whom most of us know for his work at the helm of Apple, looked in the mirror every day of his working life and asked himself one question: “If today were the last day of your life, would you want to be doing what you’re doing?” Most of the time, his answer came back as a resounding yes, but for the average person, it probably varies. So passionate about his work was Jobs that he worked right up until the day before his death, despite suffering from pancreatic cancer.
Minda Zetlin discusses the benefits of asking ourselves this question each day in terms of how it can help us to discover whether or not we’re fulfilling our full potential and working in the careers we love. Asking this question can help us to cultivate a sense of purpose in our personal lives as well as our professional lives. Here are 6 questions that Steve Jobs’s daily exercise can challenge us to ask ourselves.
1. Does your work make you smile?
No job is perfect. We all have to deal with the demands of schedules, cranky coworkers, long hours, and mind-numbing tasks. But I’ve come to realize that at the end of the day, if I’ve smiled just once as a result of my work, it’s all been worth it. Smiling at work reminds you that you’re doing something, however small, in your daily routine that you find fulfilling.
2. How tired do you feel at the end of the day?
There seem to be two kinds of exhaustion: the well-earned readiness for rest after a challenging but productive day, and the weariness of feeling like you’ve climbed a mountain only to find yourself at the bottom having to face the same drudgery tomorrow. If you’re living according to the philosophy of Steve Jobs, you should, at least most days, experience the first rather than the second form of exhaustion. Going to bed with the feeling that you’ve accomplished something means two things: that you’re using your talents in a way that you find fulfilling and that you’re contributing productively to the world around you.
3. Is your work rewarded?
I’m not talking about formal recognition, though being named employee of the month certainly doesn’t harm your professional credentials. Rather, do people appreciate the work that you do? Do colleagues thank you for your work, compliment your dedication, and tell you how well you do your job at least occasionally? Mental and physical health are intertwined, and the emotions, both negative and positive, that we carry around with us in the workplace often follow us home. Working in an environment where you feel valued not only contributes to your professional success, but helps you to avoid bringing bad vibes into your home and squandering your “downtime” with thoughts about overwork or office politics.
4. Do you have any regrets?
Other than the triple latte you probably shouldn’t have ordered on the way to work because it went completely off your diet, what do you regret about the way you’re living your life? When we’re unhappy, we tend to focus on what we could be doing rather than what we’re doing in the moment. Minda Zetlin points out that some of the biggest regrets we have are due to a fear of failure. Changing careers, pursuing more education, or learning a new skill can come with risks. Sometimes you’ll succeed, sometimes you won’t, but it’s far better to try and fail than to spend your life wondering whether or not you would have succeeded.
5. Does your work consume your life?
It’s commonly said that no one ever dies wishing they’d worked more. Not all jobs allow you to leave your work on the desk at 5 o’clock, particularly in the digital age, but that doesn’t mean your work has to control your life. Set boundaries when and where you can. Sit down to dinner with your family when time permits. Squander a few minutes of reading the latest novel on your morning commute or on the treadmill. Find ways to fill your life with variety to give yourself a reason to face each day with something to get excited about.
6. Do you feel stimulated?
One of the things I love about my work as a teacher and a writer is that I’m always learning something, whether through research or a conversation with my students that challenges me to examine the world from a different angle. Meeting with challenges or learning new things in your work keeps your mind active and broadens your knowledge and skill set, but it can also help to spice up the monotony of the everyday routine. Whether you’re a housewife or a hedge-fund manager, having mentally or physically stimulating work to do can increase your sense of productivity and self-esteem. Nothing compares with the satisfaction of setting yourself a task and completing it.
Featured photo credit: Stokpic via stokpic.com